How to Repot Cacti and Succulents

How to Repot Cacti and Succulents

Although many cacti and succulents actually like a tight pot, there will come a time when you need to repot, or maybe you just want to take it out of it's placates pot and put it in something nicer. But how do you know when a succulent or cacti needs repotting? Here are a few signs:

  • If you can see that the roots are tightly packed or sticking out of the drainage holes
  • If when watered the water just sits at the top of the soil and doesn't soak through
  • When the plant looks like it's too big for the pot
  • Or if the soil has become poor quality, such as it dries out quickly or has come away from the sides of the pot.

A general rule of thumb is to repot every two years, at least as a way to provide fresh fertile soil. The best time to repot is at the beginning of a succulent's growing season for the highest chance of survival. Early spring is the optimal period for most cases but take note, some do start growing in autumn or winter.

Photo via

How to:

1. Remove the plant from its original pot. You'll see that the root system is really packed and has probably been choking in that pot!

Photo via

2. Open up the compacted soil and try to gently spread out the roots. Clear away the old soil but be careful not to pull too hard or break them. It's helpful to use a stick like a chopstick or stick to remove the old soil. Also look out for dead roots, which should be pruned off. You'll want to choose a pot that's bigger than the current one, but not too big.

Photo via

3. Place a few rocks at the bottom of the pot for drainage. Fill the pot about ½ full with potting mixture, put the plant on the mixture and add more of the potting mixture. You want to press the soil gently down so as to make it compact again. Do not water the succulents immediately after repotting. Wait a week to give them some time to adjust to the new soil.

Photo via



SUCCULENTOPEDIA: Browse succulents by Genus, Family, Scientific Name, Common Name, Origin, or cacti by Genus

Subscribe now and be up to date with our latest news and updates.

When to Repot a Cactus Plant

You will know when to repot a cactus plant if you see roots coming out the bottom of the container. This indicates it is overly root bound. Most cacti find small spaces very cozy and can stay in their container for years. The sight of roots will let you know it has expanded too much and will need repotting.

The next size up container will be appropriate since they like it snug. A general rule of thumb is to repot every 2 to 4 years. If you fertilize annually, the latter is more appropriate but if you don’t fertilize, repot in two years to replenish soil fertility. The best time is during active growth in January or February.

Why Repot Succulents?

1. Newly Bought Succulent Plant

In this case, we are killing 2 birds with 1 stone. When you first buy a succulent, some might come in its own plastic container as packaging (which is only good when transporting succulents from one place to another).

However, in the long run this is detrimental to your succulent plant as it will impede its growth and provide poor water circulation.

Also, when you repot succulents for the first time after purchase you will be able to examine whether there are any parasites lurking about.

It is for this reason that most of our succulents undergo a 2-week quarantine procedure. By checking the roots of the succulent plant you will be able to exterminate whatever remnant parasites that remains.

2. The Succulent Plant Has Outgrown the Container

It is a good sign whenever your succulent outgrows its container. This means it has been receiving the proper nutrients and lighting for optimum growth.

One sure-fire way of telling if your succulent is too big is by looking at its top. If it’s too heavy, it will start to tip over. Another confirmation is by looking at the roots. Additional roots will be seen sprouting out the sides or drainage hole.

This phenomenon is called “root ball”. Root balls are indicative of nutrient-depletion in soil, and if nothing is done to fix the situation the growth of the succulent will eventually stop.

3. Planned Soil Changing

Sometimes the act of repotting succulents does not mean that the pot (or whatever is housing the succulent) needs changing. It could also mean the soil has gone bad and needs switching out.

As a side note, you should always change the soil whenever you buy a new succulent. Many would just continue using the same soil that comes with the packaging, which is a big no-no in our books. The soil that comes with the packaging has most likely been watered too much.

Repotting Cactus

Repotting a cactus can be intimidating, but a few simple tricks can make the project a lot less painful—and result in beautiful, healthy plants.

When repotting a cactus, there a few essential tools you’ll need:

  • Chopstick or small dowel
  • Cactus soil
  • Container with drainage
  • Gloves
  • Newspaper

Cactus soil is a special blend of potting soil that is formulated for fast drainage. It is usually a blend of peat moss and sand, sometimes including coconut fiber, perlite, or vermiculite. With the increase in popularity of growing cacti and succulents, it has become a garden center staple and can be found at most garden centers and hardware stores.

You’ll want to use a container—preferably one that is made from terra cotta—with drainage holes. This allows the water to drain away from the roots rapidly. Cacti are native to dry environments and do not like to have their roots sitting in water. If the drainage hole on your pot is especially large, it can be partially covered with a rock to prevent soil from draining out the bottom when you water. Most cacti are slow growing and should never be planted in a pot that is more than an inch larger in diameter than their previous container. This is to help prevent rot.

Winter is a great time to warm up in the Greenhouses and see our cacti collection.

Weingartia lanata in bloom

Repotting your cactus is in many ways very similar to repotting almost any other houseplant.

  1. Begin by filling the new pot ½ to ¾ full with soil.
  2. Remove your plant from its old pot.
    • Make sure to wear gloves.
    • Roll up a sheet of newspaper to make a strip approximately the same width as a belt.
    • Wrap your newspaper strip around the plant and use it as a handle to gently lift the plant from the pot.
  3. If the plant is really root bound, gently loosen the soil around it to encourage new growth. (I like to leave some of the soil intact. This provides some weight to help keep the plant anchored. If the soil is poor quality, all of it should be removed.)
  4. Using the newspaper handle, set your plant into its new pot.
  5. Using the chopstick, firm the soil around the base of your plant. Keep adding soil until it reaches the same level as the old soil. (This should be approximately ½-1 inch below the lip of the container.)
  6. Water your plant throughly.

Your cactus now has much more room to grow, which also means much more soil to stay moist. Make sure to check before watering again—the soil can stay moist for a long time, even if it is a mix made for cacti.

©2017 Chicago Botanic Garden and

How to Repot an Arrangement of Succulents

Related Articles

Succulents feature plump, fleshy leaves and stems that retain moisture, similar to a cactus. Many succulent varieties also produce attractive flowers in season that can brighten up a small dish garden. Most succulent plants thrive in pots, because they require minimal watering or maintenance and they also grow slowly so rarely require repotting. However, if the arrangement begins to outgrow its pot you can transfer the plants to a larger container at any time of year. Taking the time to repot properly ensures the continued health of the plant and allows you to retain the aesthetics of the original arrangement.

Fill the new pot with a soil mixture formulated for cactus plants or create your own mix by combining equal parts potting soil and coarse sand or perlite. Use a shallow pot, 2 inches wider than the width of the entire succulent arrangement, with at least one bottom drainage hole.

Water the potting mixture until it's barely moist and the excess just begins to drip from the drainage hole.

Scoop the succulents out of the old pot using the tip of a trowel or a large spoon. Lift the entire root system, taking care not to cut or break the smaller roots.

Arrange the succulents as desired in the new pot, spacing the plants 2 to 3 inches apart in all directions. Make a small hole in the mix for each plant's roots once you are satisfied with the arrangement and plant them at the same depth at which they were previously growing.

Wait one week before watering the newly repotted succulents, so the roots can adjust to the new soil. Sprinkle the soil surface lightly with water to moisten, but avoid deep watering that causes wet soil, because it can result in root rot.